Every summer, worlds collide in Santa Fe for a handful of teen girls living thousands of miles away from home. Nearly two dozen young women, half of them Israeli and half Palestinian, travel from across the world to come together and attend a three-week summer program in the name of peace.

The camp, established in 2003 by humanitarian Rachel Kaufman, was created in response to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Increasingly disheartened by stories of violence and loss in the Middle East, Kaufman believed that peacemaking could not be achieved through older generations of Israelis and Palestinians too entrenched in a learned hatred for each other. Instead, she believed that peace could be found within the next generation of young leaders. Thus, Creativity for Peace was born.

Over the course of the three-week program, campers learn more about each other by living and working together and by sharing their stories. As Executive Director Dottie Indyke explains, “Our organization is based on the idea that an enemy is a person whose story you haven’t heard. Once you’ve heard that person’s story, they’re not your enemy anymore. You can’t stereotype them; you understand them.”

The camp aims to change this idea of the “other” through routine and structured conversations they label as dialogue. Led by one Israeli facilitator and one Palestinian facilitator, dialogue functions as a way to share personal accounts of the girls’ experiences living in the Middle East. Former camper, now Young Leader—the title for junior counselors—Shai Keidar of Israel explains that the dialogue period is often challenging.

“My brother was a soldier in the Israeli army when I was a camper, which was very, very hard for the Palestinian campers to hear; their experience with soldiers are not good, so hearing that my brother was a soldier was confusing for them because I told them how amazing he is, and how gentle he is,” Keidar tells SFR. “I cried so much when they told stories about other soldiers, because that’s my brother, and then one of the Palestinians came up to me and gave me a warm hug—she put everything aside and was feeling what I was feeling, even though she had a lot of bad experiences with soldiers.”

Creativity for Peace also builds connections between the girls through a variety of activities in addition to sharing a living space. “Being in dialogue and hearing those stories and asking many questions is one part of the experience,” Keidar continues. “Living together, sharing everything from a bed to a shower, and keeping the house warm and clean, or going to the opera or the movies, that’s the other part that brings us together and connects us in a way that’s hard to find anywhere else.”

This week, the girls work on building connections by heading up to the Santa Fe Mountain Center with SFR in tow. With just under seven days of camp under their belts, there's a palpable sense of budding friendship among the girls, but they still have a ways to go. While they share English as a second language—a requirement for camp—they're still working through many cultural, linguistic, political and religious differences. It is this lack of common ground at the start of camp which make activities like a this a challenge. The campers whoop and cheer for two of their junior counselors who begin climbing upwards towards the ropes course. The triangular course, known as Team Journey, consists of two climbers walking different ropes before coming together in the center. From there, the climbers must work together to reach the third corner as a team. As everyone else watches from below, Indyke tells SFR why they chose the activity.

“The purpose of this exercise is twofold: One of the purposes is empowerment; this is an opportunity for them to have an experience that they otherwise may not have had before of doing something scary and challenging that pushes them outside of their comfort zone,” she says. “The other purpose is to give them an opportunity to work together to work to a common goal. The experience of helping each other creates a bond that shows them what it actually feels like for someone not to be your enemy any more. They’re there to help and support you.”

Next week, the girls continue to challenge and express themselves in the form of a community event. On Thursday July 27, Creativity for Peace campers, Young Leaders and staffers plan to join together for Salaam~Shalom: A Celebration of Peace. The event, which takes its name from greetings in Arabic and Hebrew, respectively, features talks given by the program’s Young Leaders open to sharing their stories and discoveries with the community. Creativity for Peace brings the Middle East to the Farmers’ Market Pavilion with food, music and dancing from the region and community members can learn more about the young women's cultures.

As Salaam~Shalom demonstrates, Creativity for Peace’s message is even more relevant than ever—not just for these girls, but for the people of America. “We’re taking hate and suspicion and misinformation and we’re turning it into love and respect and friendship,” Youth and Volunteer Coordinator Alysha Shaw points out. “The things that we’re teaching these girls and the skills that we’re giving them are things that we desperately need in this country, but we are lacking right now.”

 

Salaam~Shalom: A Celebration of Peace5:30 pm Thursday July 27. $15-$40.Farmers Market Pavilion, 1607 Paseo de Peralta, 983-7726.